Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sethe and Edna: Two Mothers Trapped

It seems that we’ve read many books featuring mothers with ambiguous morals, Beloved being the latest.  I’m sure we all also remember Edna from The Awakening, who drowns herself and leaves her children behind.  In some ways (many ways), Sethe is Edna’s complete opposite.  She will do anything to care for her children, including make an arduous journey while pregnant so she can feed her young child.  She would never even think about drowning herself while her children lived.  At one point, she even thinks up an explanation for Beloved: she wanted to lay down in the grave with her but couldn’t while Denver, Howard, and Buglar were alive.  She sacrifices herself, in some sense, when she kills her baby girl.  It’s horrifying for us to simply contemplate—think how much worse it was for Sethe to kill her own child, because that was the only way she thought she could save her.

In other ways she’s similar to Edna.  Kind of.  Well.  I mean.  Edna is trapped like Sethe, but Edna is trapped more figuratively, having basically because very apathetic about her life and seeing no path out of it.  Sethe, on the other hand, was not only literally enslaved; she’s also trapped by 124 and by her past, by the judgement of the people in the town.  The difference is that Sethe claws her way out of slavery, and continues on despite the oppressive rejection by others, while Edna chooses to leave life altogether.  So I would say that Sethe’s devotion to her children is much greater than Edna’s.  I feel slightly bad judging Edna, as I’ve never walked in her shoes, but I just think that she’s such a stark contrast to Sethe.  And yet the novels are also similar…after all, both portray the negative effects that entrapment, whether it be literal or figurative, has on the relationship between a mother and her children.

Roll, Jordan, Roll

I'm not sure what clips or audio recordings Bryce found for our presentation, but I found clips of Follow the Drinking Gourd and Roll, Jordan, Roll. I wanna talk about the latter. Roll, Jordan, Roll was a spiritual written in the 18th century by Charles Wesley (English leader of the Methodist movement who wrote 6,000 hymns - okay buddy we see you). Roll, Jordan, Roll was one of the spirituals that were appropriated as coded messages for escape. The spiritual was featured in the film 12 Years A Slave. Below you'll find a link to a clip of the movie. In the clip, the character Solomon Northup (who wrote the title memoir that the movie is based off of) is seen as accepting the hopelessness of his situation and singing to the heavens, singing to God, with the rest of the choir. The actor, Chiwetel Ejifor, conveys so many emotions on his face in this moment, it's truly amazing. This scene always makes me cry (if you guys haven't seen 12 Years A Slave, freaking watch it).

Toni Morrison and The New Yorker

While doing research on Toni Morrison and Beloved, I came across a really interesting article by The New Yorker. It discusses how Toni Morrison has allowed a whole new generation of black writers to write freely about social issues. Something interesting for me specifically was that the article discusses Ellison as one of the these writers that was inspired by Toni Morrison and Ellison wrote Invisible Man, my independent study novel. The article is pretty long, but really interesting if you would like to read it here is the link:

A Follow Up to Yams

Earlier in the semester when we were discussing Things Fall Apart by Achebe, I made a post about the importance of yams in the novel and how Kendrick Lamar still uses these yams as a symbol of power and influence in his song, King Kunta. While reading my independent study novel, Invisible Man, I noticed that yams play a really important role in the novel. When the narrator is struggling to find his identity along with his cultural identity, he comes across a yam vendor on the streets of New York. The narrator earlier in the novel has been embarrassed to do stereotypical things, but after having a crisis decides to buy yams and eat them on the streets of the city. This is the first time in the novel the narrator has not been embarrassed of his cultural identity. In Achebe's novel, he uses the yams as symbol for power and respect within Igbo culture. In Ellison's novel, however, he uses yams as a symbol and representation of black culture. Yams are clearly a significant symbol throughout literature and are still used as a symbol to this day.

Slave Escape Stories

For my part of the research project, I discussed three stories of slaves that courageously escaped from their owners to the North via the Underground Railroad in Ohio. As you guys might remember, my stories were about a mother that faced serious legal troubles, a couple that escaped under a disguise, and a man that escaped with the help of William Still and became an important religious figure and scholar. I was really interested by the stories of these former slaves and their journey to freedom, so I found a few more that I would like to share with you guys.

One former slave, Henry Brown, decided to escape his plantation in 1848 when his wife and children were sold to another state. Out of desperation, he chose to hide in a wooden crate until he arrived at the home of an abolitionist. He lived in the crate with only a few pieces of bread and water while traveling in a wagon, on a steamboat, and on a railroad. For an hour and a half in the steamboat, he was placed upside down and nearly died. After an extremely long and dangerous journey, Brown eventually successfully landed in a free state. Later, Brown spent years in Great Britain and worked as a magician, performing with the same crate he escaped in.

Another amazing story is that of Harriet Jacobs. Jacobs was brutally abused by her plantation owner, and after she gave birth to her two children by another man, she was determined to leave. She eventually escaped in 1835 and was forced to live in a small attic inside her grandmother's house in the North. She lived in the attic, which was 9 ft x 7 ft and shorter than 3 ft high, for nine years. Barely any light or air entered the room. She spent the years watching her children through a very small peephole and only leaving the room at night for brief exercise. She later was able to reach New York and Boston and bought her freedom a few years later.

There's plenty of other stories, and I encourage you guys to take a look at them. These personal accounts provide perspective on slavery and escape.

The Sad History of Africville the Destination of the Underground Railroad

In researching the underground railroad, I thought it was interesting to look at where the former slaves went after their escape. As you know, many slaves escaped to Canada, which had abolished slavery and offered a promising destination for many slaves. One thing I found was that many slaves in Canada set up communities where they lived together. One prominent example of such a community is Africville, outside of Halifax in Nova Scotia. The community was first founded by slaves freed by the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The community continued to grow throughout the 1800s. Unfortunately, the community of Africville struggled as the city of Halifax failed to develop it or provide basic services, such as improved plumbing and roads. The city mistreated the community, treating it as an industrial area that was the site of toxic waste disposal. Eventually, in the 1960s following decades of decay, the government of Halifax condemned the area as blighted and tore it down for the construction of a highway and a bridge. This was harshly criticized by community members and activists who felt that the community was targeted since it was mostly black. These events were effectively the end of the Africville community. In 2010, after years of investigation, the Halifax city council officially apologized for its actions, designated some of the land as a historical monument, and offered compensation for descendants of families from Africville. The history of Africville both serves an example of a community of freed slaves that was established following their escape and of the sad mistreatment of former slaves and their descendants that continues to the present day.

A México por la Libertad

Today the issue of illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States is very controversial, but over 100 years ago, it used to be the other way around. Although most fugitive slaves took the Underground Railroad north into free states and Canada, a similar path existed to the south into Mexico. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829 by Mexican President Vicente Guerrero.

Nathaniel Jackson and his family were instrumental in offering slaves refuge and helping them cross the Mexican border. Jackson was the son of a plantation owner in Alabama. He and his family owned slaves, but eventually emancipated them. He married Matilda Hicks, who was once a slave on his family's plantation, and headed to the Rio Grande Valley with their children and five other families in covered wagons in 1857.

There were many ferries set up across the Rio Grande in the 1850s, so border families were able to assist slaves to cross into Mexico. Although military forts were also present along the river (remnants of the Mexican-American War of the 1840s), the structures were too far from each other for border officials to patrol. It is believed that about 3,000 slaves escaped across the river in the 1850s.

The Texas Rangers was born out of an organization of men that were slave hunters. They tried to retrieve slaves that crossed the Rio Grande for slave owners and would be paid according to how far into Mexico the slaves were found. There is still a lot of history to be uncovered about the Underground Railroad to Mexico.